Frances McGill, Sherlock Holmes of Saskatchewan

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

McGill was considered the first woman Mountie. Source: RCMP Heritage Centre.

Daniel Prinn

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Forensic science is prominent today, but it was still a new field in the early 1900s.’ However this did not stop Frances Gertrude McGill, who would later become known by some as the “Sherlock Holmes of Saskatchewan.”

McGill was born in Minnedosa, Manitoba in 1877 and grew up on her family’s farm. After teachers’ college she attended the University of Manitoba in medicine, graduating in 1915. McGill became the provincial bacteriologist in 1918 and pathologist of Saskatchewan in 1920, and worked her way to become the director of Saskatchewan’s provincial laboratory in 1922. She got to work closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigating suspicious deaths – a rare honour in a male-dominated line of work. McGill built a reputation for herself in the field, and many attribute this to her personal motto: “Think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog.”

McGill became good at solving crimes, and was rarely revolted by gruesome death scenes. She also gained a reputation for her detailed work and court testimony. In 1937 the RCMP opened their own forensic laboratory in Regina, decreasing McGill’s workload. Still, she worked as the provincial pathologist until 1942. A year later she was invited to work as the temporary head of the RCMP’s forensic laboratory. In her new role, McGill was considered the force’s first woman Mountie. McGill also trained the country’s future police officers and detectives in medical jurisprudence, pathology and toxicology.

After McGill formally stepped down in 1946 she was appointed Honorary Surgeon. McGill died on January 21, 1959. She was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1999.

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